Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Vietnam Stuka's

On 13th of April 1972 the darkness of the early morning was lit up by the flashes of a huge number of artillery pieces. For the next 15 hours they fired at their target. The focus of this concentration of fire power was the city of An Loc in Vietnam, and shells would be landing at a rate of one every eight seconds for the rest of the day. This barrage helped to sap the ARVN defender’s morale even further. Whilst the city had been bolstered by forces, these were the survivors of further positions that had been over run in the preceding eight days by a brand new communist offensive. The offensive had been launched out of Cambodia and after two days of bitter fighting had crushed the Quần Lợi Base Camp. As it fell one of the US advisors was last heard of calling down air strikes on his own position.
The following days involved the surrounding of two smaller bases, and their eventual defeat. A portion of the soldiers involved had managed to break out and retreat to An Loc, without any heavy equipment.  A small force of ARVN and US advisers from these positions were surrounded and nearly annihilated. Eventually two OH-6’s managed to land and carry the entire platoon to safety. In the lead OH-6, six of the twelve people lifted out were carried out clinging to the landing skids.
An Loc itself.
The communists surrounded An Loc with some 35,000 men, along with a vast array of artillery and anti-aircraft weapons. But these were not all the communist forces had, they also had some forty T-54 tanks. To support their attack they launched these at the beleaguered ARVN forces. This was the first time the ARVN soldiers would face armour.
Unsurprisingly this debut caused an outbreak of tank terror, and the ARVN lines began to break. Things looked bleak as the tanks rolled steadily down the main roads, one column of which was heading directly for the defending division's HQ.

At this point two things happened.
Firstly, a private named Binh Doan Quang stood up in his foxhole, and levelled his M72 LAW, which weighed only 5.5lbs, against the gigantic thundering behemoth heading right towards him, and pressed the button. The rocket streaked out and slammed into the tank, destroying it. The rest of the ARVN soldiers in his position saw this and realised that they had the answer to the tanks. The ARVN's efforts were helped by the Soviet trained NVA tankers. Due to the unique way the forces were deployed the tanks were part of the NVA force, while the majority of the infantry were part of a Vietcong division. This meant there was little coordination between the two. In addition, the NVA tankers would often just drive at a steady pace down roads instead of using their mobility to go cross country. Equally this steady pace would leave what little infantry support they had behind. The story of tanks in a bombed-out city with no infantry support is one we all know the results of.

At the ARVN HQ about to be overrun by tanks a US advisor, Colonel Miller, grabbed his radio, on a US band, and said "Send me some Stuka's!". Somewhat to his shock he got a reply.
Serpent Six identified himself as being overhead, with two Cobra gunships. These are not the twin engine tow laden gunships armed with a 20mm cannon we know today, but much more primitive machines. They were armed with a rifle calibre mini-gun and rockets, which were normally fitted with HE warheads. However, these rockets had been fitted with the brand new HEAT warhead.
Overhead in Serpent Six, a Major by the name of Larry McKay, was positioning himself for an attack run. Col Miller tried to wave him off as the air around An Loc was covered by hundreds of AA weapons. Nevertheless, Maj McKay positioned himself above the town. Just before he was about to start his attack he saw a rising column of smoke as a heat seeking missile streaked towards him. He threw the AH-1 into a tight ninety degree turn and managed to get the missile to go after the hot gas that was his exhaust trail, not his helicopter. Banking back, Maj McKay put his Cobra into a steep dive directly towards the column of tanks. He chose such a risky approach for added accuracy against the targets, which were in friendly lines. On his first pass he knocked out three tanks in the attacking column, one at both the front and rear of the line, and one in the middle. The two Cobra's then set about the T-55's, being credited with destroying some twenty vehicles. By now US air power was responding and the number of planes stacked up above the battlefield was so many that the air space was becoming dangerously overcrowded.

One by one the aircraft rolled in, some making attack runs at only 20m separation from friendly forces. This firepower, along with the rallied ARVN soldiers knocking out tanks forced the battle to move into a prolonged siege.
Resupply of An Loc became more and more difficult due to the huge amount of AA firepower deployed. On April the 14th three USAF C-130's tried to make a resupply drop to the city. The first plane managed to get in and out having dropped its load. A second plane approached and was met with a hail of AA fire. The flak killed one man and wounded two others, as well as setting a fire in the cargo bay. The fire was located on the 27,000 pounds of ammunition which burned fiercely. The load-master fought past the flames and dumped the cargo. Two of the pallets exploded seconds after leaving the plane, causing severe burns to his face, neck and hands.
On their way back to base it was found that the landing gear would not lower. The load-master with the burnt hand furiously hand cranked the landing gear down, and the pilot managed to bring the C-130 in on just one engine. For their actions both the pilot, Colonel William R. Caldwell, and the load-master, Staff Sergeant Charles Shaub received the Air Force Cross.

The battle of An Loc would grind on until the 20th of July, when the communist forces withdrew unable to break the defenders.

Image Credits:
www.history-of-american-wars.com and vnafmamn.com (be warned the last site seems to hold a lot of errors.)